Third Sunday In Ordinary Time

January 21, 2017 Column Father De Celles

Rested and Ready. I’m just back from 7 days in Orlando, playing golf with 2 other priests. Having grown up in South Texas, where winter lasts about a month, it was great to go from 24 degrees in Virginia to 80 degrees in Florida. My months-long cold even cleared up. I love being a priest and your pastor, and I even enjoy the change of seasons of Virginia, but I do miss the warmer months of the deep South. So, I thank the Lord for the opportunities He gives me, for such refreshing vacations, and for my priest-friend’s parents who so generously allow us to stay at their place in Florida. Now, rested and refreshed, back to work.


Mass with Bishop Burbidge. This Monday, January 23rd, at 7pm, Bishop Michael Burbidge will be offering a Mass for our deanery at St. Bernadette’s on Old Keene Mill Road. (The Diocese is divided into geographical groupings of parishes, called “deaneries”). If you haven’t met our new Bishop yet, I encourage you to attend this Mass and the reception immediately following.


Office Remodeling Problem. Aaarrrgh! The simple remodeling work we had planned to begin 2 weeks ago, was put on hold by a last-minute decision by the Fairfax County permits office. After being assured informally by County officials that our simple project would be approved quickly, now the County has come up with an official list of “problems” and delayed our permits. But I’m sure it’s just a well-intentioned mistake. So say a little prayer that we will quickly move forward, God willing. St. Joseph the Carpenter, pray for us.


March for Life. We will be taking 3 buses to the March for Life this Friday, January 27—see the signup sheets in the narthex, and details below in this bulletin. I encourage all of you to join us, either in personal presence (on the buses and or at the Mass) or in prayer.


The “Dubia.” I’m not sure if you’ve followed it, but there has been a growing confusion regarding certain passages of Pope Francis’ letter on marriage, “Amoris Laetitia,” issued last March. As I have previously reported, in parts of that letter His Holiness spoke very clearly in upholding ancient unchangeable doctrine on the indissolubility of Marriage and the mortal sin of adultery involved in attempting to divorce and remarry (assuming a valid first marriage or no Church annulment). In other parts of the letter, however, His Holiness was less than clear in his language, and this lack of clarity is the source of the ongoing discussion and confusion among many bishops, priests and lay faithful.

Specifically, some bishops and bishops’ conferences, as well as priests and lay people, have been interpreting the unclear language of Amoris Laetitia to allow “divorced and remarried” Catholics, after discerning with a priest, to remain in their illicit and invalid “second marriage” and receive the sacraments, including both Penance and Holy Communion. This is directly and clearly contrary to the constant teaching and discipline of the Church, established in Scripture, passed down by Tradition and codified in Canon Law, which provides that such persons cannot receive the sacraments until 1) they renounce their illicit/invalid “second marriage,” 2) or receive an annulment of the “first marriage” and have their “second marriage” validated by a Church wedding, 3) or at least commit to living together only as “brother and sister,” i.e., to refrain from sexual activity together that belongs only in a valid marriage.

This growing confusion has prompted many prominent Catholics to beg the Holy Father to clarify his position, and, of course, clearly uphold the Church’s teaching. For example, last June a group of 45 highly distinguished theologians wrote the Holy Father in this regard, and last month 2 of the most highly respected moral theologians, Germain Grisez and John Finnis, submitted a similar request along with a lengthy clear explanation of their understanding of the confusion that exists. Both of these requests, as well as most of the other similar requests I’m aware of, were very respectful and deferential to His Holiness, not questioning his authority but only asking for him to clarify his meaning.

But the most high profile request came in November from four highly respected Cardinals, three of whom are considered top experts in their respective academic fields: the profound moral theologian, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna and founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family; canon lawyer, Cardinal Raymond Burke, current Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (i.e., Chief Justice of the Vatican’s Supreme Court); Church historian, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.

These four Cardinals sent the Holy Father a very respectful letter containing five questions, called “dubia” (Latin for “doubts”), which they asked him to resolve for them. (Note: the dubia is a widely used and respectful practice for clarifying issues in the Church). The dubia were essentially these:

1) Can a divorced and invalidly remarried person (as described above) receive absolution (in the sacrament of penance) and Holy Communion, even without living as “brother and sister”?

2) Is the ancient doctrine still true that there are absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and are binding without exceptions?

3) Is the ancient doctrine still true that a person who habitually breaks a commandment, e.g., committing adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), is in an objective situation of grave habitual sin?

4) Is the ancient doctrine still true that neither circumstances nor good intentions can ever transform an intrinsically evil act into a ‘subjectively’ good act or defensible as a choice?

5) Is the ancient doctrine still true that appeals to “conscience” can never be used to approve exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts?

Note, the Cardinals clearly do not think His Holiness will overturn ancient Church teaching, based on Scripture and Tradition, but merely hope he will clarify that teaching for those who are so terribly confused.

Moreover, these four Cardinals are just doing their job as cardinals: respectfully advising the Pope, and obediently responding to Pope Francis’ repeated call for dialogue and discussion of these issues. Happily, many Cardinals and Bishops have come out in support of the four Cardinals’ letter. But some have, sadly, reacted in very uncharitable and irrational ways—one even calling them heretics (what?), while others deny there is any confusion at all. In that regard, Cardinal Caffarra responded: “It is a fact—which only a blind man can deny—that there exists in the Church a great confusion … Some bishops have said A, others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same texts.”

Let us pray for all the Cardinals and Bishops, especially these four good, holy, learned and obedient Cardinals, and for our Holy Father. May the Lord Jesus lead us to a fulfillment of His promise: “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles